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《公共人的衰落》序言原文  

2008-07-14 16:00:51|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Preface for the Chinese Edition of The Fall of Public Man

By Richard Sennett

The Fall of Public Man addressed issues which may seem both foreign and familiar to a Chinese reader. The book's Western context lies in sociological debates of a previous generation. I hope the book's more universal appeal lies in its treatment of individualism and of public space.

When I began writing The Fall of Public Man, sociological discussions of public life focused mostly on politics, whereas my approach was more anthropological and historical. The leading European theorists of public life were Jürgen Habermas and Hannah Arendt. The first had asserted that the public realm combined economic interests and political debate; Habermas was emerging from Marxist thinking, and so stressed the power of politics to overcome class divisions. This stress would eventually become his theory of 'communicative interaction,' developed in the 1990s.  By contrast, Hannah Arendt believed in a purely public political realm, by which she meant a sphere in which all citizens speak as equals, not matter their class, gender, race, or ethnicity.  Habermas conceived of the 'public' as an emergence from material life, Arendt as a refusal to define citizens in terms of their material circumstances.

My view was more materialist, in the sense that I wanted to understand everyday behaviour and its patterns of sociability in the context of a particular environment, the large city. My method, derived from anthropology, was to compare formal patterns of expression in the theatre to ordinary patterns of expression on the city's streets. This is, in academic jargon, what was then called the 'dramaturgical model' of public life, and has been more recently called the study of 'performativity.' I gave to this model an historical framework, principally in the evolution of London, Paris, and New York from the 18th Century to our own time.

So, you can imagine in Western understanding of public life as a kind of mental, equilateral triangle. On one side, that of Habermas, the 'public' consists of people struggling to transcend their own material interests; on the second side, that of Arendt, 'the public' consists of citizens who speak entirely impersonally and equally to each other, citizens who refuse to speak the language of identity. On the third side, represented by me and my school, the 'public' is tangible; it addresses how people speak to strangers, the clothes they wear on the streets, the contrast between outdoor spaces and indoor rooms; the measure of what these tangible behaviours mean, of how much they express, comes from comparing everyday behaviour to the highly organized expression which occurs in art.

The two issues which I imagine would speak directly to the Chinese reader concern individualism and public space. 'Individualism' is much more than a matter of economic competition. It addresses the social sense of connectedness to other human beings, and psychological conceptions of the individual self. The argument I advance in The Fall of Public Man is, socially, almost a truism; everyday behaviour in large cities has become less connected to other people; psychologically, my argument is perhaps more radical. I argue that psychological experience becomes impoverished as people this of themselves as individuals, people become less expressive selves, tyrannized by intimacy, lacking the stimulation of strangers and Otherness. Impersonality, I argue, can and should enrich the self.

From my own travels in China, I think this is a cultural problem known to you, though of course in a very different form. The 'glue' of everyday society is a problem now for you, and it has been for Europe, as are many of the psychological confusions and suffocations which attend the 'fall' of impersonal relations. These become more concrete in the problems we share about the quality of public space in cities.

It’s a cliché to observe that Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities are becoming more Western both in their architecture and in their organization of outdoor public space. My book probes the defects of this Western model: I try to show how and why public space has become uniform, homogeneous; the deadening consequences for everyday social exchanges which follow upon that homogeneity, the peculiar sense of psychological dislocation which physical uniformity arouses. To make these judgments, I rely, following upon my method, on the contrast between stage and street. In art we compensate for the deadness and indifference which attends strangers on the street, in the public realm of modern cities.

I hope, in sum, that my book will read as an account of another culture's history of public life, but this account is not entirely divorced from problems you are currently facing. To make this book available to you, I would like to thank its able translator Li Jihong.

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